Grier Hopkins

Grier Hopkins

Grier Hopkins

House District 4

Democrat

Q: The Legislature’s Permanent Fund Working Group issued a report in January outlining three options for the future of the PFD. The group only agreed on one thing: the draw of the permanent fund earnings reserve, including the dividend payment, should not exceed 5.25% of the fund’s market value. 

The other options include: 1) a full dividend in line with the 1982 formula in state statute, 2) a standard yearly $1,600 dividend, and 3) a concept referred to as the “surplus dividend” that would pay out what’s left after government is funded, an amount that could vary depending on government funding levels.  

What change, if any, do you support making to the permanent fund dividend formula? Explain. 

A: If we’re to make any changes to the PFD formula, it needs to be in a direction that is more flexible for Alaska’s fiscal situation. A formula that truly shares in Alaska’s resource wealth, where the dividend amount is based on revenue from multiple sources. Whatever the amount that is spent on a dividend, I strongly agree that we must not exceed a sustainable 5.25% draw on the fund’s market value.

Q: Do you support continued use of the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account to fund the government? Why or why not? 

A: The CBR pays for recovery and protection from disasters like the 2018 earthquake in Southcentral or the devastating wildfire season last year. Our CBR is our savings account for the unexpected. If it must be spent, it must be for emergencies. We do not know what the full cost of a COVID recovery will look like, so we must be smart about how we spend any state dollar.

Q: Is it time for Alaska to have a statewide sales or income tax? Explain. 

A: Alaska has had a free ride for a long time. Before the PFD, Alaska had an income tax and an education head tax, still those were some of our state’s strongest years. I believe we can create a strong state again by being a part of a long-term fiscal plan that gets us off boom and bust budgeting, but that will take new revenue and a spending cap.

Q: An initiative on the November general election ballot seeks to repeal Senate Bill 21 and change the state’s oil and gas tax system. Should Alaska change its oil and gas tax system? Explain. 

A: Yes, Alaska should change its oil tax system, but it must include strategies and goals for where want to go with our oil resources, not simply a cash grab. SB21 successfully brought in new development but cost the state billions. Oil’s future is declining, and if we increase their taxes, we should invest wisely for a more sustainable economy and off of boom and bust budgeting.

Q: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the state’s COVID-19 response? Explain

A: I am dissatisfied. Through Fairbanks’ efforts this spring, we were COVID-free for weeks. Today, we are seeing cases spike. Better use of the emergency powers the Legislature granted the governor could have kept Alaskans safe and our economy on the road to recovery. Instead, federal relief hasn’t gotten to small businesses, our hospital has lost millions of dollars and Alaskans are still getting sick.

Q: In June, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz approved a municipality-wide policy mandating the wearing of masks in public indoor spaces. Many boroughs and municipalities do not have the powers to enact policies of that nature. Would you support a statewide policy requiring the wearing of masks or cloth face coverings in public spaces? Explain. 

A: Yes, I support a statewide mask mandate in public places. Wearing a mask protects my neighbor, and their mask protects me. I wear a mask in crowds because it allows us all to more safely go about our daily life. A statewide mask mandate would allow businesses to open more freely, get Alaskans back to work and keep our families and our friends safer.

Q: The University of Alaska narrowly avoided financial exigency last year after state funding for the university was cut by $25 million. The university has sustained annual cuts in state funding since 2012. Do you support the budget cuts the university has seen? Explain. 

A: I do not support these budget cuts. We must support UAF as the world class institution it is. I was proud to have voted for and passed a small amount of increased funding before the governor vetoed it. These attacks on our university have hurt its standing. I strongly support this institution, its faculty, staff and students.

Q: Alaska’s prison system is the number one provider of mental health services in the state. What, if anything, should the state do to improve mental health and substance abuse services across the state? 

A: I was proud to be one of only two votes in the Legislature against further criminalization of non-violent substance abusers. I believe the millions we spend on locking up our mentally ill and addicted Alaskans can be better spent on rehabilitation services, social workers and job training. By addressing these problems at the source, instead of after a crime is committed, we can save money and lives.

Q: In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the end of May, large-scale reforms in law enforcement and policing are being called for across the country with specific calls for de-escalation, mental health and racial prejudice training and more transparency and attention to police misconduct. What, if anything, do you propose for Alaska? Explain

A: We need to give our law enforcement officers the tools to succeed at their jobs. Disparities in arrests and incarcerations of black, brown and indigenous Alaskans compared to whites shows Alaska is no exception in needed reforms to our criminal justice system. Providing our dedicated police with the de-escalation, mental health and racial prejudice training — from academy through career — will reduce police misconduct, establishing trust between officers and neighborhoods.

Q: Nearly one-third of the Interior rural communities represented by Tanana Chiefs Conference have no running water village-wide. What steps would you take to improve village sanitation?  

A: This is a complicated but critical question for our state. First, we need to listen to what the villages say they need and how to provide it. Then bring together the amazing work being done here in Alaska like sustainable and modular housing designs from CCHRC, low-water toilets from ANTHC and unique septic systems like Life Water Engineering designed to put together a solution to fit the problem.

Q: Alaska’s fish and game boards have historically consisted of hunters and fishers. Should the boards have one or more seats designated for representatives of non-consumptive uses of Alaska’s fish and wildlife?

A: In the same way the Board of Fish has traditionally — but not officially — dedicated seats to a variety of different user groups, the Board of Game needs a seat dedicated to non-consumptive users. While I do not support statutory designations for these seats, I believe the perspectives of every Alaskan who hunts, fishes, photographs or views our wildlife should have a voice in how they are allocated and managed.

Q: The governor last year introduced legislation to repeal the authority of a local government to levy its property tax on oil and gas properties within its jurisdiction and to repeal the related credit for that amount an oil company receives against the state tax on the same properties. Last year, owners of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline paid the Fairbanks North Star Borough $11.4 million in property taxes. Do you support or oppose repeal of these provisions?

A: I opposed the governor’s clawback of these funds the borough receives for private companies using our land. This was simply a cost shift from the state onto local taxpayers. Ironically, this local tax increase was coupled with the governor’s state budget that would have slashed education, health care and our university by a third — crippling our economy and needlessly raising our taxes. I’m glad it didn’t pass.

Q: Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $50 million in state Medicaid funding in 2019 and $31 million in 2020, resulting in losses in coverage for Alaskans on Medicaid and payments for providers through the Medicaid program. Do you support this decision to cut state spending for Medicaid? Explain.

A: Before these vetoes, Alaskans received better preventative care and had fewer expensive procedures and emergency room visits that drive costs up for everyone, all while spending less overall to keep Alaskans healthy. Despite health care being the most expensive item in the state budget, the governor’s vetoes did not save any money because we were still required to pay the state’s small share of these important federal programs.

Q: Three former legislators, one former lieutenant governor and one former attorney general have either resigned from office or dropped out of reelection campaigns in the last three years due to sexual misconduct allegations against them. How do you think the state should handle situations of sexual misconduct involving state officials? Explain.

A: For too long actions like what led these former officials to resign has brushed under the rug. As citizens, we have a responsibility to act when we see wrong being done, and I believe the women who have been harassed and victimized should be listened to and believed. The state must fully investigate accusations and hold those who use their positions for exploitation accountable for their actions.

Q: Do you support public schools opening fully for in-person education in the spring semester? Why or why not?

Yes, I support opening schools when our medical experts say that it’s safe. With remote learning, the impacts on our students’ social and educational developments cannot be understated. But I believe as elected officials we can’t pretend to be medical experts. We must listen to those on the front lines, the doctors who know the science and are in our hospital or the economic and health impacts will be worse.

Q: Would you support the implementation of state funded hazard pay for essential workers such as health care personnel, teachers and public safety employees who must continue to work during the pandemic? Explain.

A: Under the governor’s or president’s emergency powers, I would say any worker deemed essential by the government should receive hazard pay from that government requiring them to be at work. If the federal government deems grocery store workers essential, they should pay for that work. If the state deems firefighters, police or paramedics essential, then the state should back up that action with pay commensurate with the danger of the job.

Q: Areas of the Pinnell Mountain Trail were destroyed by four-wheelers used by hunters this fall during the Fortymile caribou hunt. It will cost the federal Bureau of Land Management thousands of dollars to repair. How would you approach the issue of land use disputes between hunters and non-consumptive land users and the different authorities of state and federal agencies?

A: Dozens of caribou carcasses rotting and miles of trails destroyed is serious and saddening. Alaska must stake its rights to its land allotments and defend its lawful right to hunt and fish our wilderness. But we must also be responsible users of our land who take care and preserve it for generations. Partnering with the Alaska Outdoor Council to teach the rules will help stop this in the future.